29 Nov 2021 | 10:46
As the Seattle Seawolves continue to build for the 2022 Major League Rugby season, the two-time champions spoke to majorleague.rugby about their thoughts on 2021, the establishing of the team’s culture and their plans for next year.
In 2018 and 2019, the Seattle Seawolves were MLR champions. In those two seasons, but while the Shield remained on the west coast in 2021, it was the LA Giltinis that ended their season victorious.
Over the course of the most recent season, the Seawolves slumped to fifth in the Western Conference. Opening their campaign with back-to-back losses and only four wins would come over the course of the season.
Such was there start to the season, a midseason shake-up would come in April, with Allen Clarke installed as a technical coach.
In the weeks that followed the former Ireland international made such an impact that he would be appointed as the team’s Head Coach a month after his arrival in the city.
“The boys weren’t in a good state of mind,” Clarke, when asked about his arrival in Washington, said. “It had been a tough start to the season, but my approach was not to focus on what had happened prior to then, but to show the guys they matter and to create an environment where they enjoyed coming into work again.
Photo by Quinn Width
“After building that energy through the group, we could then focus on improving basics within our game and some finer details. The response I received was exceptional, to the point where within a couple of weeks I felt as though I was at home.”
Due to have been Head Coach of the Dallas Jackals before they opted out of competing in 2021, the team continued to improve, ending their season with home wins over the NOLA Gold and Houston SaberCats.
Those wins no doubt sent the organization into the offseason happy but did by no means detract from a dissatisfying season. James Malcolm, who also joined Seattle from Dallas, is quick to say as much, the 27-year-old hoping to take the team’s good finish into 2022.
Photo by Quinn Width
“I’d say as a season, it was definitely disappointing from a squad point of view,” Malcolm said.
“We came close in a lot of games towards the end of the season. Things started going in the right direction and the last two games of the season for us showed that.
“We put in a couple of really good performances, so it showed that we had the potential the whole season, it was just realizing that as a team.
“Hopefully we will be building on that moving into next season and it will be an exciting prospect.”
ESTABLISHING A CULTURE
Stepping through the door of Starfire Sports in late April, one of the first things that Clarke set about doing was bonding the group of players that he had inherited.
This was done through the identification of the team’s emblem, the Orca, getting the players to learn more about the whale to embody the club they represent to greater effect.
“When I arrived, I didn’t know what a Seawolf was,” Clarke said. “I knew what an Orca was, but I didn’t know that a Seawolf was another name for an Orca.
“We investigated through the player group the characteristics of the Seawolf, and players presented to one another off the back of that.
“They established values which we judged ourselves by and as a result of that, we’d always have something to measure ourselves by, in terms of our behaviors, in terms of our effort, our conduct and our performance on the field.
“I have been in the game a long time and I have worked with many consultants, but to have values which were very organic, that are attached to what we are about and the area we live in the pacific northwest, it is tremendously powerful.
“Every day we reminded ourselves of those values and that was done in a very engaging way. It was driven by the players and has been deep-rooted by the players, the members of staff and colleagues who were here last season.
“It is our responsibility now to grow those values and make them even stronger for the future.”
During the offseason, Clarke has largely spent his time working in the community to strengthen the links between Seattle and local club sides.
This has been done to create an identifiable pathway for aspirational rugby athletes to follow in order to reach their potential.
“The Seawolves have won the MLR Shield twice of the three years it has been played for,” Clarke said.
“There is a realization from ownership, from everyone involved with the Seawolves that this is the first year of really attacking it and establishing a professional environment.
“That is not just about the team that people see on the field, it is about our program, and we have been working hard over the summer to establish a pathway where we identify and develop players from this region and provide them with an opportunity to play the game and to get to that professional level with the Seawolves and then go on to play for the USA.”
Already this offseason, Clarke and his staff have also set about an overhaul of the playing group. Shalom Suniula has retired, while club stalwarts Jake Ilnicki and Djustice Sears-Duru have all left Seattle.
So far, the arrivals of the team’s two draftees (Tavite Lopeti and Darrell Williams) have been confirmed and Dan Kriel joins from the Lions in South Africa.
“The squad is going to change dramatically,” he continued. “All credit to the boys who played last season, but there is probably a 45-50% overhaul of the squad, so that has been demanding over the summer period.
“There is a squad rebuild. There have been coaching team and management team adjustments and, equally as important, there has been the establishment of a performance pathway.
“We ran two identification camps, we are bringing a number of those boys into our program and provide an opportunity for them to show us what they are about, hopefully kick on and pick up contracts with the Seawolves.”
PLANS FOR 2022
What 2022 offers is an opportunity for the Seawolves to compete at the top of MLR again. In recent weeks, it was announced that Seattle will begin the new season with home games against the Toronto Arrows and the Utah Warriors.
Now with those dates firmly written into the players’ diaries, Malcolm is hopeful that the fixture release will add extra fuel to the fires.
“Looking to 2022, the main focus we have had so far is with the long offseason, guys need to be on top of their own personal fitness,” Malcolm said.
Photo by Quinn Width
“Just keeping physically able to come and play that high level game and then as we are getting closer into the season we are starting to talk about the more tactical side of things.
“We will start trying to get the basis of our game plan for next season, so that when we get together in January it is not the first time that people are seeing or hearing all the terms.
“During that long offseason, you don’t have anything to set your sights on, but now we have got that date, it lifts that drive for you to focus and work towards something.”
Having stayed in Seattle during the offseason, Clarke has been planning to challenge next season, as well as establishing the youth pathway.
With his players due to arrive in the Pacific Northwest in the coming weeks in order to prepare for a full season together.
“We want to establish our style of play, we want to blend as a squad, we have got a lot of quality players coming in and how quickly we can get them in and how quickly we blend as a team is going to decide how well we start,” Clarke explained.
“I am excited by the brand of football we intend to play and playing at home in front of a stadium full of our supporters.
“There is a tremendous challenge there, but there is an exceptional excitement to get ourselves off to a good start and then build some momentum.
“We are very clear as a club and as a franchise as to our plans for the future and that includes the stadium, the rugby and the pathway.
“What excites me the most is how we inspire others to play rugby and that is through our style of play, but also how we engage with the wider community within Washington and the Pacific northwest.”